Working at a trade show booth is more than just smiling and handing stuff out. You need a lead generation strategy, so we’ve put together 14 trade show booth etiquette rules to help you look like a pro and maximize your company’s trade show marketing investment.

Smile

Graphic of 3 people, 2 are not smiling and 1 is smiling with text that says "Smiling makes you more approachable."

Show that you are friendly and excited to be at the event by smiling at attendees. A smile says a lot and can start a conversation without any words from across the room ( like magic ). Once you’ve got their attention with a smile, try a conversation starter like “What brings you to the show today?”.

Stand at the front of your booth

Graphic showing two people standing in the front of a trade show booth

Don’t sit at all. Remove all chairs from your booth ( winners stand on podiums ). Stand at the front right or left corners of your booth. You will be able to engage with attendees walking by more easily vs smiling at them ( below eye level ) behind a table 5 feet away.

Be enthusiastic about your company

animated gif of minions being excitedIf you are excited about your company, then other people will be too. Talk about your products and services with confidence and enthusiasm as if there is no better solution out there. Don’t say you are the best; Make people FEEL you are the best.

Stay within your booth space

graphic showing trade show floor with proper space to stand and improper place to stand for booth staff

Don’t chase someone down the hall or stand in the middle of the aisle. This is disrespectful to other exhibitors and can get you in trouble because it’s against the exhibitor rules. Stay within your space, but stand at the front so it’s like you’re standing in the aisle ( #NoProblems ).

Don’t eat or drink in your booth

Graphic with blue background and icon of hamburger and drink with prohibited signs around them

Eat your lunch and food in the food area of the exhibit. Drinking water at your booth is okay, but you shouldn’t be sipping your Big Gulp or your Starbucks coffee inside your booth. Keep your snacks and food hidden under your table and when you get hungry take a quick 5 minute break to the food area.

Avoid long conversations

Photo of guy talking with annoyed woman who is think "I think it's almost lunch..."

You might meet people who love to talk (or maybe you do), but you need to manage conversations to quickly qualify and gather lead information from attendees. If you can’t get their contact info, then give them your company info (promo item, brochure) and *politely* look for an opportunity to end the conversation ( “Thank you for stopping by!” ).

Qualify leads

Graphic showing two people: one asked "what brings you to the show", and the other replies, "I have no idea what I am doing here."

The average trade show lead cost $212 dollars. Every second at a trade show costs $50 cents. Every minute cost $30 dollars! Qualify leads early on in your conversation by asking “what brings you to the show today?”. If they show no interest in your business, then politely end the conversation. Not everybody is your target audience.

Don’t force a sell

Graphic showing guy trying to force a deal by offering free sticky notes

There will be opportunities to make sales at the event, but you shouldn’t force them. Focus on getting lead information and listen to what people have to say when you ask them why they are at the event. If your company provides something that can benefit them, then of course ask them for an opportunity to follow up on the phone to discuss it. A lot of times people are at trade shows just to gather information and report back to headquarters. It’s the 2 weeks after the trade show during your follow up strategy that you will turn those leads into clients.

Don’t talk with other booth staff

Graphic showing girl rambling about her vacation while a guy replies in silence

Of course, you’re going to chat a little, but a trade show is not the time to have a long conversation about your trip abroad ( #CostaRica ). Each minute you spend talking to other booth staff is a minute you could be talking to a potential lead. Try and keep staff conversations strictly related to the booth and generating leads. The event is fun ( have fun! ), but don’t forget that it is work.

Don’t talk badly about attendees

graphic that says "treat each visitor like a VIP"

An attendee might be rude, or you might not like them for some reason, but avoid negative conversations with other staff members. Other attendees and booths can hear you (the booth next to you might be a prospect!). Even your annoyed facial expressions can communicate the negative topic of your conversation. Treat each visitor as a VIP guest even if they don’t treat you well (Wow them with customer service!).

Know how to talk about your company

Graphic of guy saying "Our company does... stuff" with two confused listeners

If you can’t confidently talk about your company, then you shouldn’t be working at your booth. You don’t need to know every detail about your company, but you should be able to talk for 30 seconds about your products and services. Practice answering questions about your company BEFORE the event. A trade show is not the time to practice– it’s the time to perform.

No cell phones

Graphic showing a cellphone with a prohibited sign overtop

If you need to text or make a call, then do it away from your booth. It will be tempting to check your phone when nobody is at your booth, but those are the moments when you need to be at the front of your booth engaging people. Turn your cell phone off unless you are responsible for social media or photography.

Focus until the end

Mesmorizing circles with the word "Focus" in the center

It costs a small fortune to participate in a trade show and success largely depends on you ( the booth staff ), so don’t lose focus during lunch time or towards the end of the show. Attendees are not in workshops during lunch and that is a great time to discuss business.

Adhere to your booth’s dress code

Graphic showing t-shirt front and back

Dress appropriately and adhere to your dress code ( business casual, t-shirts and jeans ). Your clothing is a platform ( mini billboard ) to advertise at the event. By dressing in sync with other staff members you are communicating that you are professional and organized. You can enhance your trade show marketing by using t-shirts to extend your messaging and branding onto staff members.

That’s it! If you found this article helpful, please let me know.

Chris